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Intl Herald Tribune Editorial: Asia Finds Its Voice On Burma - 2003-06-18


Wednesday, June 18, 2003/ International Herald Tribune Editorial

After arresting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in a violent attack on her supporters late last month, Burma's military junta has finally reaped the broad international opprobrium it has long deserved.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday broke with its dubious tradition of not criticizing member governments and urged Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Freeing her is an urgent necessity. But ASEAN should demand more. When Secretary of State Colin Powell meets the group's foreign ministers Wednesday in Cambodia, he should encourage them to keep up the pressure.

As ASEAN's unusual outspokenness indicates, the barbaric cruelties of Burma's junta, which seized power 15 years ago after crushing a democracy movement, truly set it apart. Washington recently corroborated accusations that Burma's army has carried out mass punitive rapes of women and girls, targeting ethnic minorities.

The Bush administration has also complained about forced labor and relocation of civilians. The State Department has cited Burma for failing to effectively combat opium and methamphetamine exports that have ravaged its neighbors, including other ASEAN members. The junta has ignored the results of democratic elections in 1990 that were overwhelmingly won by Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy.

These actions have been as well known to the other ASEAN countries and to China, Burma's other important neighbor, as they have been to Washington. The economic and diplomatic support these countries have given Burma's rulers up to now has diluted the effectiveness of sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe. If ASEAN is now ready to stop coddling the junta, better days for Burma's long-suffering people may at last be in sight.

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